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Book excerpt: Arnold Palmer could never shake Billy Casper

Published: Tuesday, April 10 2012 10:33 p.m. MDT

But the swing was only part of it. You had to be able to execute that swing when it mattered. The swing not only has to be able to hold up under pressure, it has to get better under pressure. The players who stayed the longest, who thrived, couldn't just execute the swing when it mattered; they relished the opportunity to be able to do so. They loved to compete. They loved being in the thick of it on the final few holes. They didn't shy away from the pressure, they yearned for it. Much more than wanting to make a good swing, much more than wanting to post a good score, they wanted to win. That's what they lived for.

That was Arnold. He yearned to compete and he yearned to win. He wanted to win every single time he played. So did I.

Our methods were not at all alike. His game plan was different than mine. He was aggressive; I was conservative. He aimed for pins; I aimed for position.

His personality was different than mine. He thrived on crowd interaction; I tried to shut out the crowd.

And no one ever confused our homemade swings.

But we were after the same thing, and it wasn't to perfect our mechanics or shoot a good score. It was to win.

As impressive as anything Arnold Palmer did in his entire career was the way he handled the press conference after he lost the lead in the final round of regulation, faced with our playoff the next day. Over the years, as I have watched countless heartbreaking losses at sporting events, live and on television, and sometimes seen the victims of those losses skip out on press conferences or give surly one-word responses to the media, I think of Arnold that day at Olympic.

Both of us were ushered into the media room where hundreds of reporters were much more interested in what went wrong than what went right. For almost an hour, they grilled Palmer about this shot and that shot and this decision and that decision. He sat there and took it until the last question was asked.

When it was over, a USGA official asked him if he wanted to exit by a side door so he could avoid the crowds out front. "Naw," he said, "The way I played, I deserve whatever they do to me."

After the postmortem, we went to our separate corners, Arnold to his friends' home in the city, where he and Winnie had a quiet dinner with, among others, Mark and Nancy McCormack; me to a Mormon meetinghouse to give a talk.

Long before I knew I would tie for the lead in the U.S. Open, and be in a lengthy press conference afterward, and that I would be playing another 18 holes the next day, I had agreed to give a Sunday night fireside talk at 7 o'clock in Petaluma, 40 miles north of the city.

A deal's a deal. I changed and drove straight to the church, arriving almost an hour late. The chapel was full. No one had left.

I can remember the length of every putt and exactly what club I hit on every shot that Sunday, but to this day the most I can remember about that fireside is talking about my trip to Vietnam. But I must have said something mildly interesting because it was after 11 p.m. when the meeting ended.

I returned to the Leiningers' home in Greenbrae. I hadn't eaten anything since lunch. Shirley turned on the grill and I had a late, late dinner of pork chops, green beans and salad.

Then I went to bed and slept like a man with nothing to lose.

Meet the authors

This weekend, Billy Casper and Lee Benson will talk about and sign copies of "The Big Three and Me," from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday in Deseret Book's City Creek Center store in downtown Salt Lake City, and from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in Orem at the Deseret Book University Village store near the University Mall.

"The Big Three and Me" is available at www.billycasper.com and Deseret Book. Email: benson@desnews.com

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